History Unwritten

Baghdad battery

Baghdad battery, or just a weird pot?

For a very long time now, I've been a fan of OOPArts, meaning Out Of Place Artifacts. What I like most about them is how they tickle your imagination and provoke wild theories. My favorite is definitely the Baghdad battery. It suggests that humans started experimenting with electricity around 100 CE. Could human civilization have been much more advanced than we think? Was this technology suppressed by some organisation. Let's look at one of history's greatest mysteries.

Inside view of the Baghdad battery
Inside view of the Baghdad battery

What’s in the jar?

In 1939, an archaeologist named Wilhelm König found terracotta jars with a cylinder of copper foil and an iron rod sealed off with bitumen. The setup reminded of a leyden jar, the first battery (re?)invented in 1745. Upon opening the jar König discovered the rod and copper were oxidized in a way that an acidic content was suspected. According to some texts, the artifact was discovered near the village of Khujut Rabu, and was dated by König in the Parthian period, between 250 BCE and 224 CE, although the style of the pottery is Sassanid (224-640).

What is it for:

The scientific community was baffled, something that looks so strongly like a battery in Mesopotamia, unbelievable. But replication and experimentation proved the jar could produce an electrical current of one volt. So why would ancient Mesopotamians use this battery. Well opinions are divided, some say it was used for electroplating but the most common way in this period was fire gilding. Also one volt is not enough current for electroplating unless they understood how to connect multiple batteries in series.

Hieroglyphs that may show the battery
Hieroglyphs that may show the battery

Alternative use:

The artifacts strongly resemble another type of object with a known purpose, storage vessels for sacred scrolls. Since these vessels were exposed to the elements, it is possible that any papyrus or parchment inside had completely rotted away, perhaps leaving a trace of slightly acidic organic residue. Another theory suggest the jars were used as pain treatment. Iron needles were found in the vicinity of the jar so acupuncture is suspected. It is known that in ancient Greece and Rome they treated headaches and arthritis with electric eels.

An experiment to see if the Baghdad battery generates electricity
An experiment to see if the Baghdad battery generates electricity

But wait a minute:

After much digging into the matter, I couldn't find a single essay or written report about the discovery of the Baghdad battery, some websites say König excavated the jars, others say he found them in the basement when he took over the museum. Also I couldn't find anything about the archaeological site where it was discovered. Another questionable fact is that König dated the artifacts himself in the Parthian period but the jars are undeniable Sassanid, that’s 900 years apart.

In conclusion

I have mixed emotions about this OOPArt. I'm a great believer that history is much more complicated, that some things are much older and civilization was flourishing much earlier than supposed. I also strongly believe that the research for the true history of humanity is being sabotaged. I would like to think that somewhere, sometime in the history of Mesopotamia there lived a hermit who was always bored out of his mind so he started tinkering with all kinds of objects and discovered electricity by chance. But the truth is that the research of the objects is questionable. Why would König date the jars to Parthian times, the Parthians were very good soldiers but the scientific and artistic revolution came with the Sassanid. Also the double origin story makes it hard to believe. Whatever the fact of the matter is, OOParts are fun to research they definitely give you hours and hours of fun with your fantasy.   

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